Badami rocks !

The first time I heard about Badami was in my undergraduate Geology class nearly 20 years back. It was a class on the Geological Time Scale and we were being shown slides from various parts of India and the world as examples of different geological time periods. I still remember the Badami slide from that class—the sheer red sandstone cliffs, silhouetted against a deep blue sky. It was love at first sight.

Red Sandstone Cliffs of Badami

At that time I had absolutely no idea that Badami was also the location of rock-cut cave-temples dating from the 6th century. I got to know about this only a couple of years back, when one of my brothers visited the cave-temples of Badami and shared his photographs. Now, it was love at second sight!

When the opportunity to visit Badami, along with other heritage places in North Karnataka, as part of an organised tour group came up, I grabbed it with both hands. I applied for leave from work a full month in advance, juggled deadlines, prayed hard, etc., etc.

Bijapur was our first halt and after an overnight stay in that town, we left early next morning for Badami, with a short halt at the Almatti Dam Gardens. By noon, the red sandstone cliffs of Badami appeared in the horizon. There is an interesting reason as to how Badami got its name. Someone in the historical or mythological past, and I don’t know who, felt that the red stones were the colour of  badam or almonds. And hence, the name!

The Badami sandstones were chosen by the Chalukyas for their fine-grained, compact nature, which facilitated excavation of these sandstone hills to build 4 cave-temples, as well as carve out rock-cut sculptures in them.

Cave 1

Of the 4 cave-temples, three are dedicated to Hindu Gods, while the fourth has a Jaina theme. Cave-Temple 3 is the oldest of them and is dedicated to Vishnu. It is also the largest of the cave-temples and was excavated, according to Kannada inscriptions in the cave, in 578 by Mangalesa, a powerful Chalukya King. Cave-Temple 2, also dedicated to Vishnu, was the next to be excavated, followed by Cave-Temple 1, which is dedicated to Shiva. Cave-Temple 4, the Jaina cave-temple was excavated at the very top of the hill at the end of the 7th century.

All the cave-temples have certain common features: a rectangular pillared verandah (mukha-mandapa), a more or less square pillared hall (maha-mandapa), and a small almost square shrine room (garbha-griha) at its rear. All the cave-temples have extensively sculpted interiors depending on the cave’s theme, which came as a bit of a shock to me after the stark, unornamented structures seen in Bijapur. None of the shrine rooms have an idol and there is no reliable record as to when these main idols disappeared, or who was responsible for their disappearance.

The 18-armed Nataraja masterpiece in Cave 1. If you take any one hand from the right and any one hand from the left, you will get a Bharatanatyam pose. Work out the permutations and combinations of the number of poses that you can get !

Vishnu avatars from Cave-Temple 2. (L) Varaha Avatar and (R) Vamana Avatar

Carving of a snake on the ceiling in Cave 1. It looked so real, that my first instinct was to run away

A rare pose of Vishnu seated on Shesh Nag. Normally, he is portrayed lying on the snake. Here, too, the snake seemed disturbingly real ! Also note the beautifully carved pillars.

Carvings of Jain monks in the Jaina Cave-Temple 4

The carvings were not just left bare; they were painted over with vivid colours derived from vegetables and minerals. Sadly, none of this survives today except for certain patches on the ceilings of Cave-Temple 3.

The green still manages to look vivid, doesn't it? Painted ceiling from Cave -Temple 3

It is not just the cave temples that are breathtaking. The landscape around just begs the visitor to stop and savour this natural beauty along with the beauty carved by human hands.

Steps leading towards the cave-temples

View of the Agastya Tank from the Badami Cave-Temples

When Badami came under the rule of Tipu Sultan, he built a fort on top of the cave-temple bearing hills. Till a few years back, visitors could climb up to the fort through a specially built access path. But due to a spate of suicides resulting from people flinging themselves off from the fort ramparts, it is now closed to visitors. :-(

View of the fort ramparts

The Badami cave-temples are maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India, who have undertaken minor and major repair and restoration work of the site over the years. While I am no expert, I could see that the ASI has done a good job in this regard.

Badami appeared to be a popular tourist spot, particularly for the those from nearby towns and villages. It was wonderful to see bus/jeep and even a cart load of people coming to see these beautiful, awe-inspiring caves. There were tourists from urban places, but were few in number. In spite of the large number of tourists, I was pleasantly surprised to see a spotlessly clean monument, free from litter and graffiti. This is largely due to the presence of the “Green Police”, who keep a vigilant, eagle eye on the tourists.

Can one finally say that Indians have made a beginning in appreciating and caring for our heritage? I would say an optimistic, but cautious YES !

P.S.: This visit was part of a tour organised by Doreen D’Sa of Doe’s Ecotours. She can be contacted at does_ecotours@yahoo.co.in.

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14 thoughts on “Badami rocks !

  1. i think Karnataka is one state which has trmendous potential for conservation and tourism,and is unknown to many Indians.And yes,though there is a start for the whole heritage conservation thing,i rhink the rich cultural past of India deserves much more…we have a way to go…
    Loved your pics btw!

    • Thank you for stopping by. Yes, our cultural heritage deserves much more, which is why I am optimistically cautious or cautiously optimistic. ;-) I agree with you completely when you say that Karnataka has tremendous potential for conservation and tourism, and they are doing a lot towards this, unlike my own home state of Maharashtra. I have many more posts coming up based on my trip—Pattadakal, Aihole, and Hampi. Would love to know what you think of those as well.

  2. As always Sudha, well-written…and u’ve whetted a desire to visit Badami! Amazing pics too…..and yes I am glad that ASI and people are beginning to take care of our national heritage…..

    Look forward to the next…..

    Happy Travels

  3. Nice pictures Sudha. It is very similar to Petra (meaning Rock) in Jordan. In fact, it is called the Rosy City because of the colour of its rocks. The beauty, and the glory in such places take one’s breath away.

    • I am so honoured that you have visited my blog and commented on it. A visit to Petra and Palmyra and Jerusalem and…. is on my travel list. Inshallah, it will happen one day and hopefully with you !

  4. Awesome I feel I have travelled with u once again today. The caves , the history, the rock formation, Bhootnath Temple & the lake with corecles. The pics are too good.The sculpturevof the caves,figurines depicted esp Shiva & circle of snake.The beautiful memories of the trip are revived.
    Thanks again

  5. Pingback: Colour: A natural history of the palette | My Favourite Things

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